Sunday, 6 March 2011

Well Dressing in Derbyshire

The following three photographs I took in 1998 showing how the towns and villages in Derbyshire dress their ancient wells once a year

Every picture tells a story and
every picture is made up entirely of flowers

The following pictures are scanned from the above book
Outside Derbyshire well-dressing is a mystery.
Even inside the county it is a mystery in the
Shakesperean sense of a skilled craft practiced only by a priviledged few initiates.
In reading the above book, well dressing almost certainly originated in pagan sacrifices to water-gods as a thanksgiving for past supplies and an inducement for further favours. Finding the sacrifice of humans and animals wasteful and sometimes distressing, primitive man adopted the more economical, colourful practice of hanging garlands of flowers above springs as some South American Indian tribes still hang torn strips of colourful cotton above springs and wells for the same purpose.

The early Christian church handled pagan customs sensitively, absorbing and adapting rather than supressing. That this was a slow process is clear from a decree of 960 expressly forbidding the worship of fountains. As late as 1102 , St. Anselm was still condemning 'this form of idolatory'.

But well-dressing today has strong religious links. Probably 3 out of every 4 pictures has a religious theme and an interdenominational blessing of wells is held everywhere. There are some well-dressers that see it as akin to harvest festivals.


Elizabethd said...

It is unbelievable that those are made entirely with flowers!

Terri said...

How wonderful! I really appreciate your tours! Like a scenic quilt aren't they? I wonder if that's how the Rose Parade started here in Pasadena, CA for the Rose Bowl (football tournament). Maybe someone from Derbyshire started it. I'll have to look into this.

Needled Mom said...

How interesting and what wonderful well dressing it is too. I will have to research that further and find out some more information about it.

Hope you are feeling better.

Sara at Come Away With Me said...

What is amazing to me is that they accomplish all that with flowers! The scenes are very intricate and colorful.

Gwendolyn said...

Fascinating! What a work of art. The details and such crafting of the scenes with floral work. My! No doubt it does have some pagan roots, as many cultures observe water rituals of some kind, though today people only think in terms of custom. What "sense" do you get being around the well dressing and well-dressers? Do they still associate merit and blessing with "caring for" the wells?

In any case, you've made it possible for us to enjoy the artwork. Thank you for sharing these pictures and insights.

Lorrie said...

This is so interesting, Barbara. I've never heard of well dressing. Fascinating.

Vee said...

Those are pretty incredible. I especially like the last...what detail and all with flowers? Hmmm... Always something new to learn here, Barbara.

I'm mostly known as 'MA' said...

That is the first time I've ever heard of well dressing too. I do know that there are many wells that are to believed to have spiritual powers and I love the idea of the ornamental flower dressing. I love the fact that I learn something new every day of my life. Thank you for sharing!

Michael said...

Amazing thinking how these are all made of flowers. Wow. I don;t think I ;ve ever run across any as such. I particularly like the last one the best. Maybe it's the English flags. :)

La Petite Gallery said...

This is amazing. I saw a well in the center of the street in a village in Ireland, . Never knew that they honored them so. Think I'll go put a Bow on my well, couldn't hurt. That's if I can find it in the snow..

Lori Zehr said...

This was so very interesting! I enjoy history and such information. Learned a lot from your interesting post.

Bernideen said...

How unusual these are - thanks for sharing!